The issue has become central over the past week as images of destroyed equipment, including US-made Bradley fighting vehicles and German-made Leopard tanks, began surfacing on social media.
The need to supply and support Ukraine will remain for years, especially if Ukraine joins NATO. At the same time, individual governments are rushing to ramp up funding for their own defense industries to ramp up production and work through supply chain bottlenecks that remain from decades of COVID-era neglect and disruption.
US Army Secretary Christine Wormuth told reporters at the Pentagon this week that intelligence leaders continue to be concerned that the defense industry is struggling to meet the demands of the conflict.
« I think one lesson our country has learned from the Ukrainian conflict is that our industrial base is not as strong as we need it to be, and that was a wake-up call, » Wormuth said.
He also called on Congress to approve additional funding to prop up Kiev above the spending limits agreed under the recent debt limit deal. Speaker of the Republican House Kevin McCarthy recently rejected any attempt to exceed the ceilings of the agreement with a supplement focused on Ukraine.
In the years of post-Cold War defense spending cuts, « we’ve lost visibility into our defense supply chain, » said a senior US Department of Defense official, who was on condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters. It has been a tough climb back to where they need to be not only for Ukraine but also to support US priorities in Europe and the Indo-Pacific.
Battlefield needs have evolved significantly since the initial invasion, when Ukraine needed small anti-armor weapons such as javelins. Now, Ukrainian pilots are preparing to learn to fly F-16s, operate main battle tanks, and operate long-range munitions and state-of-the-art air defenses.
« We’ve crossed the borders of every war domain we do here in the department, and we’ve touched nearly every segment of the defense industrial base, probably more than we did in Afghanistan and Iraq, » a second DOD official said. “I suspect we will touch on more as it continues to evolve through the counteroffensive in the fall.”
In Europe, NATO leaders are expected to sign off on a new defense production action plan when they meet in Vilnius, Lithuania, next month. At meetings in Brussels this week, dozens of defense contractors gathered on the sidelines to begin planning their recommendations for that plan, according to three people familiar with the meetings.
NATO leadership has recognized the industry’s problem and for much of the past year has been trying to devise a plan to better integrate US and European companies.
« The relationship between governments and industry has never been more important, » NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday, acknowledging that « it is obviously national governments that sign the vast majority of contracts », although « NATO plays a role crucial to the industry also. »
Speaking about the new roadmap, Stoltenberg said it would « link the alliance’s defense industrial capability more effectively to our defense planning » and « it will also facilitate more joint procurement, help achieve NATO capability goals and will support Allies in implementing NATO standards ».
Several ministers welcomed the initiative.
« I am very much in favor of having these kind of meetings with industry, which makes it easier to understand what we have to do, what is the problem, what can we do to solve these problems, » said Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren. journalists following the sector session.
There is a lot of « room to improve joint procurement, to have more standardisation, to use user groups, so different countries that want the same capacity, » he added.
« I’ve spent a lot of time dealing with Europeans and I’ve never seen this level of seriousness about defense investment, » the top Pentagon official said. « The reaction to Ukraine is unprecedented in my mind. »
On Thursday, Germany and Poland pledged support for Leopard tanks that have rushed to Ukraine this spring, while the US, UK, Denmark, the Netherlands and Canada pledged new shipments of air defense missiles. Norway and Germany have also announced multi-year security assistance packages, and Denmark has pledged nearly $2.6 billion in military assistance to Ukraine through 2024.
Those pledges come in addition to the $325 million assistance package pledged by the Biden administration this week, which will be drawn directly from existing U.S. stockpiles. The package will bring another 15 Bradley fighting vehicles to replace those Ukraine has lost in recent days, along with 10 Stryker aircraft carriers.
While the US military can pull that small number of vehicles out of its stockpile without hurting its own readiness, European allies who have invested significant portions of their capabilities into warfare are increasingly feeling the pinch.
The Pentagon recently wrapped up work on an effort to accelerate sales to allies, as it seeks to build new bridges with the defense industry to better understand what they can offer and when.
“We have seen in Ukraine, and more generally, that the constraint and limiting factor for key platform production is the industrial base in the United States,” Radha Iyengar Plumb, DOD Deputy Undersecretary for Purchasing, told reporters this week. , launching the new initiative program. « So what we’re working on is speeding up production. »
It’s a tall order, but there have been significant signs of movement — and some potential roadblocks — in Washington. The Pentagon received multi-year procurement authorizations from Congress for some munitions in the last two defense budgets, allowing companies to hire more workers and expand production lines for guaranteed orders.
But there is fresh pressure from a group of House Republicans to cut government spending and in some cases revoke those authorities.
In their version of the 2024 Defense Spending BillRepublicans on the House Appropriations Committee cut $1.9 billion over the administration’s multi-year procurement request.
The bill will still have to make its way through multiple committees on Capitol Hill, where the multi-year money fight will likely be intense.
The thinking behind the multi-year strategy is that such investments will have positive knock-on effects for foreign military sales, enabling Allies to place more orders for the equipment they need, confident in the knowledge that bottlenecks will be reduced and that they will receive their orders faster.
« We are looking to invest more effectively in the industrial base to expand capacity and include that capacity in our partner requests, » Sasha Baker, Pentagon policy officer No. 2, told reporters.
While deliberations on sending equipment to the front continue in Washington, Brussels and across Europe, there is one point of view around which many allies have coalesced: the fight and the threat of Russian aggression will not go away. Soon.
« Obviously we are thinking that this will be a long-term confrontation between Russia and Western countries, » said a European diplomat. « And so we need, as an alliance, to be ready to defend ourselves. »
Paul McLeary and Lara Seligman reported from Washington. Lili Bayer reported from Brussels.